Save the USPS

by Rich Dunn, NVRDC 2nd Vice Chair 

The US Postal Service ended 2013 with a $354 million deficit, the 18th loss out of the last 21 quarters. This is entirely due to provisions in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, enacted when Republicans controlled both houses of congress and the White House. This draconian law forces the USPS to pre-pay the next 75 years’ worth of retiree healthcare costs within a 10-year window.

Republicans know that no business can operate that way, but the intent of the law was not to “enhance” the Postal Service as the name suggests. The real purpose was to force it into bankruptcy so it could be privatized, as has already happened in a number of other countries. According to the radical ideology driving these policies, competiton will lead to lower prices and better service, but things haven’t been working out that way.

In parts of the EU where postal systems have been privatized, large corporations have come out the big winners while citizens and postal workers have come out the losers. The typical pattern is for post offices to close and be replaced by counters inside of private businesses. Mail is only delivered only two or three days a week in cities, not at all in rural areas.

For postal workers, privatization has led to lower wages and more part-time and contract jobs with little job security and few or no benefits. Meanwhile, corporate customers are getting their mail picked up more frequently, often at lower cost thanks to reduced labor costs and service cutbacks to the general public.

Of course, major shareholders and C-Suite executives of postal businesses can’t believe their luck.  Even as letter mail has seen declining volumes, there are still enormous profits to be made in the mail industry thanks to the shift from brick and mortar retail stores to online shopping.

In the United States, the privatization and downsizing process has actually been going on for some time. Since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 went into effect, the Postal Service has paid its own way and has not received one cent in taxpayer subsidies. Now more than $12 billion of the USPS’s $65 billion annual budget goes to private companies like Pitney Bowes and United Parcel Service.

Part-time workers now make up over 20 percent of the workforce and the total number of USPS employees has been reduced by a third. Meanwhile over half of the processing plants have been closed and hours at many rural post offices have been drastically reduced, sometimes to just two or three hours a day. Collection boxes have been removed from the streets, the speed and reliability of mail delivery has gone down, more customers are being forced to pick up their mail at cluster boxes and lines at post offices are longer than ever.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, the US Postal Service made an operating profit of $765 million, a very healthy margin for any business that size. But thanks to the congressionally-imposed burden of paying its pension obligations forward, something no private business has ever been required to do, the Postal Service has to take $5 billion a year off its bottom line, resulting in paper losses quarter after quarter while it funds a $50 billion escrow account. This is 100% of the reason why the Postal Service continues to show a paper loss.

Fortunately there is hope on the horizon. On February 6th the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved a bi-partisan bill which would give the Postal Service more operating flexibility and lighten some of its workforce-related burdens. Not only would this bill put the Postal Service’s balance sheet on a more businesslike footing, it would also allow it to innovate in ways that would maximize its revenues while enhancing its range of services, such as selling advertising space on the 22 million stamps it sells every year or offering email, web, banking or parcel-wrapping services,

While Mark Amodei has opposed the closure of rural post offices in CD-2, he’s fine with reduced operating hours and advocates for “robust reforms to the USPS” because its paper deficits will “leave taxpayers footing the bill unless serious changes are made to the current system.” Translation: CD-2’s representative in congress is onboard with the ongoing Republican campaign to drive the USPS into oblivion. We need to get behind the efforts of Senate Democrats to rescue and revitalize our Postal Service, especially on behalf of rural communities that depend on it most.

Looking Ahead in Congress: Defense spending bill and Disclose Act

In the House 
The Defense Appropriations Act (HR 5856)

This bill cuts total defense spending by about $25 billion from current levels, mostly reflecting less spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. Base-level funding for DOD itself would increase slightly. The House is expected to work on this bill for the bulk of the week with a vote on Friday.

The Sequestration Transparency Act (HR 5872)
House Republicans will bring this bill to the Floor in the middle of the week, in an effort to require the Administration to report on how it proposes to slash more than $100 billion in spending in 2013. That cut is required under the so-called “Sequester,” which Congress approved last year as a way of forcing $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. House Republicans have already approved a bill that would alter the Sequester by avoiding Defense Department cuts, and continue to pressure the Obama administration to support similar alterations.

Several other bills will also be considered in the House this week:

HR 6018
To authorize appropriations for the Department of State for fiscal year 2013.

The Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act (S 1959)
Requires a report on the designation of the Haqqani Network as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Insular Areas Act (S 2009)
Improves the administration of programs in the insular areas.

S 2039
To allow a State or local government to construct levees on certain properties otherwise designated as open space lands.

The US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act (S 2165)
Enhances strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel.

In the Senate 
The DISCLOSE Act (S 3369)
This is the second Democratic bill meant to address the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. That ruling said the government cannot limit campaign spending by corporations, unions and other groups. (See other bills related to Citizens United.)
The bill would require these groups to report aggregate campaign spending of $10,000 to the government. In 2010, Democrats sought to require reporting of all spending above $600, but their bill failed to move in the Senate. The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on the new bill on Monday.

Bill with High Volume Activity on POPVOX 
Most Discussed Bill Last Week: The Repeal of Obamacare Act (HR 6079)
The House approved this bill 244-185 last week, with the help of five Democrats. But as expected, the bill is already “last week’s news,” as the Senate is not expected to consider it at all. Thousands of POPVOX users had opinions of the bill to repeal the 2010 healthcare law, making it the most-discussed bill on the site last week. More than 4,500 people weighed in, and were in favor of the bill by a more than 10-1 margin.

The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S 1789)
This bill, #9 on POPVOX, would give the U.S. Postal Service the flexibility to restructure its finances to help it stop losing millions of dollars each day. The Senate passed it in April. The House has indicated it is unlikely to move any related legislation before the August recess. House Republicans oppose the Senate bill as something that would increase the deficit further, and favor proposals to let the USPS close offices that are not profitable. Without movement by Congress, some version of the House GOP plan will likely come to pass anyway, as the USPS has said it will soon need to begin shuttering offices.

The Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act (S 2237)
This bill, number 11 on POPVOX, would give companies a tax credit of up to $500,000, but it stalled in the Senate last week, as Republican opposition blocked it in a procedural vote.

Link to POPVOX’s Weekly Update online.

Congressional Activity This Week

Here’s the new weekly update from POPVOX.

From our Hill sources — the week ahead includes consideration of these bills:

The House will consider several bills dealing with cybersecurity this week, while the Senate will spend much of the week on a bill to save the U.S. Postal Service.

Four cybersecurity bills in the House on Thurs, Fri

— The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protect Act (HR 3523), from Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI-8), which would allow the government to share information with companies to help protect their networks. This was the fourth-most discussed bill on POPVOX last week.

— The Federal Information Security Amendments Act (HR 4257), from Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA-49), is aimed at “improving the framework for securing information technology of federal government systems.”

— The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act (HR 2096), from Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX-10), is meant to foster coordinated research between federal agencies to help address cyber threats.

— The Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Act (HR 3834), from Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX-4), would reauthorize the government’s NITRD cybersecurity program. Bills in the Senate

— The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S 1789) (number 8 on POPVOX last week), is a bipartisan bill that would allow the U.S. Postal Service restructure its retirement payments in a bid to keep the USPS fiscally sound. Starting on Tuesday, the Senate is expected to start voting on up to 39 amendments to the bill.

—  The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on SJRes 36, a Republican resolution that disapproves of a 2010 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board meant to speed up union elections. —  The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (S 1925) should be debated later in the week.

— Highway funding: Also look for the House and Senate to start reconciling their differences over federal highway funding. Last week, the House passed an extension of highway programs through the end of the fiscal year, HR 4348. In March, the Senate approved a two-year extension, S 1813. Both bills have overwhelming negative comments on PopVox.

Also in the House this week

The early part of the week for the House will be filled with several non-controversial bills. On Tuesday, the House will consider six bills dealing with federal land use:

— To authorize the conveyance of two parcels of land in the Coconino National Forest (HR 1038)

— The Idaho Wilderness Water Resources Protection Act (HR 2050)

— To facilitate a land exchange in the Inyo National Forest (HR 2157)

— To release the U.S. interest in land conveyed to establish an airport in Minnesota (HR 2497)

— To modify the boundaries of the Cibola National Forest (HR 491)

— The Lowell National Historical Park Land Exchange Act (HR 2240)

And on Wednesday, the House will consider two others:

— The Small Business Credit Availability Act (HR 3336), which ensures the exclusion of small lenders from certain regulations of the Dodd-Frank Act

— The DATA Act (HR 2146), a bill aimed at increasing the transparency of federal spending

Other noteworthy bills

— The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, (HR 4089), the most-discussed bill on POPVOX last week, passed the House on April 17.

— The Paying a Fair Share Act (S 2230), the second-most discussed bill on POPVOX, failed to advance in the Senate last week. The bill would impose a minimum tax on all income above $1 million.

The Student Loan Forgiveness Act (HR 4170) sets up a program to ease the burden of student loans on students. This bill, the third-most discussed on POPVOX, is currently not being discussed in any of the committees to which it was referred.

(Find this on the POPVOX blog.)

Newly Introduced

The list of newly introduced bills is LONG, we’ve highlighted many of them at . (Keep in mind that these bills are so new that many don’t yet have bill text available online. So keep checking back.)

Recent Issue Spotlights

We developed Issue Spotlights to pull together bills by category, making it easier for individuals to find bills related to a particular issue. Spotlights have become popular among our users, and are often shared through email and listservs. (If you have an idea for an Issue Spotlight, please let me know.)

What about HR 4646 — the 1% tax on financial transactions?
“HR 4646” has consistently been a popular bill search term on POPVOX, even though no current bill numbered HR 4646 exists. Get the scoop.

The Research Works Act: The Research Works Act (HR 3699), which would prohibit Federal agencies from disseminating publicly-funded research without publisher consent, was withdrawn by its sponsors on Feb. 27, 2012. Learn why POPVOX users opposed the bill.

Vietnam Veterans Day
President Obama signed a proclamation declaring March 29 as “Vietnam Veterans Day.” The last American troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973.

Estate Tax
According to the IRS, “the laws on Estate and Gift Taxes are considered to be some of the most complicated in the tax code.”

Personal Income Tax
Given Tax Day, it seemed fitting to do a spotlight on tax bills!